To The Editor:
I am writing in response to your article entitled "Pro Bono Program Provides DCF Children with Lawyers" (Law Tribune, May 27).
The article showcases a worthwhile effort by Department of Children & Families Commissioner Joette Katz and Stamford lawyer Ernest Teitell, former chair of the Public Defender Services Commission, to provide children committed to DCF’s care with extra advocacy when they need assistance with educational issues.
However, the article would lead an uninformed reader to conclude that children involved in child welfare cases have no legal advocates representing them. That could not be more untrue. Your readers also need to know that there are over 100 committed lawyers representing children in our juvenile courts every day, advocating for assistance for their legal rights.
Every child who is the subject of a petition alleging neglect or abuse by their parents or guardians is appointed a lawyer. These lawyers are under contract with the Office of Chief Public Defender to assist the child and advocate for the child’s expressed interest during the juvenile court child protection proceeding.
Lawyers receive a multi-day training program before they are assigned cases and are required by their contract to complete updated training every year. They advocate for visitation, help DCF identify resources for placements and provide counsel for children during what is often the most confusing and stressful time in their lives.
Child welfare cases can be time-intensive. The attorneys must attend court, make regular visits to young clients and maintain contact with the child’s caretakers. They must attend meetings on the client’s case plans at the local DCF office, meetings that are usually scheduled at the same time as court sessions.
Special education law is an area that requires training and specialized expertise. Some of the lawyers who currently represent children in DCF cases have that expertise and some do not. It is commendable that a group of experienced civil litigators under the leadership of Attorney Teitell and DCF Commissioner Katz is taking the time to assist this very vulnerable population of kids. Lawyers who work hard for children in juvenile court every day should all be commended for their work, protecting children and advocating for their rights.
Christine Perra Rapillo
Director of Delinquency Defense
and Child Protection
Office of Chief Public Defender